One Year On – Grief Still Cuts Deep

Today marks a year since the accident, since they were killed. I can hardly believe we find ourselves here. This past year has been torture. All the while we live double lives. The life we are expected to, the life we are required to operate in the world. Alongside that life is the life filled with the tragedy that befell us.

The world has moved on. Since not long after it happened I was aware of the worlds need to keep turning. For other people’s lives to go on. We have been lucky to have friends who have kept our loss front and center, in the most respectful of ways, to be sensitive, aware, supportive and present in the fact that this isn’t just natures course. The separation caused by the violent and sudden loss of my parents has cut deep into our core. For all those that held my parents close it is a wound that has yet refused to fully scab and heal.

Yet what is healing? It certainly isn’t a return to something, to a sort of ‘normal’. That is gone. It left the moment the metal crashed against metal, trapping and tearing my parents bodies inside. Granted there was a brief delay before we all knew but then it was over, that normal no longer to return.

Defying Explanation

It’s hard to explain and in some ways, as we have gone further from the initial loss and the initial outpouring of support, the harder it has become to communicate about the subject. The initial rounds of support were for the loss, an awareness of the tragic nature was always present yet as the weeks turned to months it was as if it was simply too big a mountain to summit in conversation; the ongoing understanding of the sudden and tragic nature of the loss a rarefied air atop the mountain that few wished to try breathe.

There was no time for goodbyes, no participation in the process for us loved ones. There was no chance to recount old times, share the final stories that had perhaps been saved for ‘later on’. There was no window of forgiveness or the airing of unsaid things, no chance to make amends – even if they had been the smallest of things. I was lucky in life to have had such a close relationship with my parents. An open forum of communication where we shared much. I’m lucky to have few regrets there and thankfully there were no issues left unresolved. Yet there are things I would have liked to have closed on, even revealed, silly things really… yet I never had a chance to do that. To find closure and send them on their way.

Abrupt is an understatement

I miss them. I’m constantly reminded of them. Think of that for a moment, for not a single day to go by without deep and meaningful thoughts to be processed and experienced. In all honestly I can’t make it more than a few hours before they are in my thoughts. They were torn so ferociously from us it is as if the myriad of tendrils of them in my mind remain unaccounted for. I’m moving through my heart and soul and finding these loose ends and tying them off. To find the other meanings and memories they relate to and to  carefully craft a bow of love between what was, what is and what can never any more be.

I simply can’t believe a whole year has passed.

One of the greatest feelings of loss is that of the loss of my children’s grandparents. Of their relationship, of all the love and care and interaction that they will all miss out on. It continues to be one of the most poignant things I long for, that I miss, that I feel robbed of. There are however dozens. You see in the loss of a loved one there is far more than the loss of your relationship with them. There are the dynamics of all the relationships that included that person and how you related to them. There is the loss of lifestyle, the things you did because of that relationship. For me, for example, as an ex-pat Brit living in Seattle there was the visits. Both my mother and father would visit independently and as a couple. I moved to the USA in 2004 and for over a decade a major part of my life was when my parents would visit. It was very much ‘a thing’. There was the planning, the anticipation, the arrival, the trip itself, the often tearful goodbyes and of course the memories. More and more memories every time. All that is left now are those memories. Never again will we compare calendars, look at school schedules. No more will we excitedly plan a whale watching trip or visit to the islands or peninsula. We won’t ever get the joy of booking those extra two tickets on the Santa Train at Snoqualmie.

Loss runs deep.

In the previous paragraph I shared an example of just one of the facets of my relationship with my parents which has now gone – been torn from us never to return. Like a baby who’s favorite blanket has been ripped out of its hands I’m left at a loss, a part of my being which was always with me and very much a part of who I am gone in an instant. There are a cacophony of other facets that litter the crystalline surface of my life.

Friends and family help. It’s not all dark. There are parts of my life that still glow and shine. Yet I’m not writing this nor are you reading it to hear about what is ‘OK’ or where the balance and calm are. I’m writing this to share how a loss of such a loved one, let alone two as is in my case,  year on, still so colors so much of life. That through the connections and shear number of facets which relate to them that the damage and hurt is pervasive, long lasting and that even after a full year I’m still very much living with, working with and through what this loss means to me.

It’s not all dark and this year has included smiles. It has, for me, included a change in career, the developing of new and meaningful relationships with some amazing people… including those which I’m proud to call very close friends. Maybe we are just better and cutting through the crap and sorting the wheat from the chaff now? Maybe we are just more appreciative of life, love and of people who bring meaning into our lives.

Then I think of how I’d love to tell Mum and Dad about that, or those people. The new job, the new experiences, the new people. How I’d love to introduce them to the new friends… and it hurts. It hurts a lot and there is nothing you can do when those feelings come. They wash into and over you swamping you with yet more loss. That’s right, more loss, I’m saying that the concept of loss isn’t static, new loss is added and increases over time even as you work to rationalize and understand loss you were previously aware of.

Time and the healing of wounds

Some say time heals all wounds. I’ve blogged previously about how time and focusing on your grief can help you move forward on your path. There is no going back. Yet more than time healing wounds is something I’ve grown to realize and that is that time makes it easier to [momentarily] forget, to push things to the side. When you are dealing with all the latest stresses of the day; from jobs, to fixing the house and paying the mortgage, to the children being children and everything else in between, time has a tendency to simply pile so much on to you that it can smother your mind in the present and make it harder to focus on the loss. That doesn’t mean you have to dismiss or diminish your loss or that because of the volume of thing to worry about and deal with in the day to day that you shouldn’t give yourself space and time to revisit those wounds. I say go for it! Go back to them. Find your space, create a space and go there.

Does it get any easier? Is a fair question to ask – and I have been asked it many times. I know you want the answer to be ‘yes’ but it’s not that simple I’m afraid. If you have been following my blog you will undoubtedly have come to realize there are many layers and facets to grief. In some ways ‘things’ becomes easier – you learn to live with your grief, so like riding a bike ‘dealing’ with grief does become ‘easier’ as you are more experienced with it. You can push the pedals of grief more efficiently. The emotional depth, impact of your feelings and efficacy of working to tie off all those lose ends, to move with and through all your memories and the connections not just to what was lost but the things and people that remain (including new experiences by the way) doesn’t ever get easier. The mechanism for doing so does. The mechanism is quite different to the emotional journey and that, my dear reader, is always as hard as it was on day one. And that is OK – it’s OK to feel overwhelmed by your loss even a long time afterwards because quite frankly time isn’t all it’s made out to be.

Time doesn’t matter. Time is a figment of our imaginations.

Our brains and memories actually don’t operate on a linear construct. John Medina’s “Brain Rules” talks in detail about how memories work and how they are stored in the brain and whilst we have the condition of time as an element to a memory when you bring a memory into working memory vs. deep storage it is as fresh and real to you as it was when it happened. I’m sure I’m butchering John’s amazing work and deep insightful knowledge on the matter – I can’t recommend his book enough. I finished it just over a year ago and was excited, thrilled even, to share it with my mum who, being a biologist, was always game for a good scientific discussion about how the human body worked. Additionally both my parents were keen observers of the human condition and I knew they would love to discuss Brain Rules and all the fascinating knowledge locked up within.

Time not mattering is important because it helps illustrate how fucking devastating loss can be even a year (or further) on. That blade of loss that cut deep and true into the very fabric of your being can cut again, and again, as you revisit it. Quite frankly it may never ‘go away’. We can build up learnings and constructs to handle how we feel. A sort of interface or “API” to connect our grief and the life we have lost to the new life we are building and living. In many ways ‘dealing with’ grief is just that… two things. Firstly accepting the fact life is changed and you need to build a new life on the new normal in a world where your loss is true. Secondly that you must build an API between ‘then’ and ‘now’ that will, for you, in a very personal way, enable you to rationalize, relate to, communicate and handle how you feel to and for yourself from the past into your present moment.

The moment is key. The moment is king.

All we have is the moment. Unplug the future, unplug the past, plug them both into the present. This is a saying I have been fond of since 2003. I now see its weakness. What it means and why I coined it was to demonstrate to myself and some close friends that there really is nothing but the present and that we must embrace and live in the present fully. It was an intellectual grasping of the importance of the moment yet it failed with one key experiential element which grief has brought into focus for me; the unplugging of the past is where the weakness lays. It is not so much of an unplugging of the past as a building of the connection from the past to the present into a way that the past can relate to the present in a positive way whilst allowing the present to be and ideally thrive [unplugged from the past and] on it’s own merit. The strength of the original statement still stands in so much as it’s focus on illustrating the importance of embracing the now. In doing so we can appreciate and enjoy what we have while we have it. “Everyone I know goes away. In the end.” – Nine Inch Nails. When you experience loss, especially tragic loss, you rapidly become aware of this truth.

Which leads us to a fitting place to end, with music; music has been a gateway to the past, to my feelings, my grief and my loss. My “Contemplative and Inspiring” Spotify playlist has been my go to for when I want to open the door. It is an eclectic mix (often in a minor key) which includes some songs guaranteed to make me cry and others that simply make me want to kiss the sky.

How have you felt about your grief as time has passed… what has been healed and what remains as open as the day it happened? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and let’s discuss. Sending hugs.

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4 thoughts on “One Year On – Grief Still Cuts Deep

  1. Your (and Marisa’s) ability, willingness – I’m not actually sure how much control you have over it, really – to be vulnerable without putting up walls and protections around your emotions, is one of the things that really draws me to you as a new friend. Have you always been so open or has the experience of becoming a suddenly-orphaned adult brought this out in you?

    • Thank you Deborah- a bit of both; I’ve always been predominantly transparent which I learned from my parents and through our open family communications style. Debates around the kitchen table. As for my grief I have found catharsis and growth in putting how I feel out into the world – by opening up I have received responses, ideas, support in quality and quantity I feel I wouldn’t have if I had suffered in silence. None of us are islands, we share this world, the human condition and our lives. It is what culture is made of. We are symbiotic in so many ways and thus putting myself out there contributes to that symbiosis for both myself and for others who choose to engage. I hope that makes sense? 😊

  2. Love you guys! “All we have is the moment. Unplug the future, unplug the past, plug them both into the present”. Understanding this is the goal of true healing and I am so happy you are reaching this point. Today is really the first day of the rest of our life. I try to remember this each morning and make the most of the day. But, we are who we are because of our past. We move into the future with these core values, experiences and relationships. We now share these with our children and grandchildren. They will take these with them to build their future and memories to share.

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